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Essay for application to the 2001 STARS Program

As I have stated elsewhere, last summer I attended Missouri Scholars Academy. There I was inundated with choices—ideas, activities, debates, and lessons were mine for the taking. Along with the physics, philosophy, and Russian history I picked up in class, I also adopted the near-ubiquitous sentiment of superiority that was fostered among our ranks. We were urged to recognize our intelligence and potential as scholars; yet what began as a mere recognition boiled into a reactive system of belief over those three weeks at the Academy.

We emerged from the experience seemingly changed, our former lives bulldozed by this new system of intellectual arrogance. We were the elite, and those who didn't agree with us just didn't understand. (We realized that that sentiment was not unique to us, yet rationalized it—we deserved to feel that way because we were intelligent.) We had been chosen to exist on a higher plane, or so we thought. I'll admit that I bought into it completely,and spent the rest of the summer in an isolated, pseudo-intellectual haze. I actually continued to live inside of that obscuring mist (to some extent ) up until the last month or so.

However, as of late I've gradually begun to realize that a truly creative, brilliant person cannot isolate herself from society—she must embrace it and whatever inspiration it may bring. Now, you may be wondering exactly how that realization relates to science and technology—well, I see a tangible link between scientific discovery and seeing oneself as connected to other people. The ebb and flow of technological progress is inextricably linked to a society's connections—that is, trade and access to new ideas among people. The society that chooses to sequester itself rather than be exposed to potentially dangerous people and ideas stands a good chance of becoming stagnant and declining. Besides being the spice of life, people help foment scientific discoveries and revolutions.

The pillars upon which the Missouri Scholars Academy rested were the creativity, individualism, and open-mindedness of its participants; yet we thwarted that ideal by trying to institutionalize it, by making it our religion of sorts. This seems obvious to me now, this complex yet essential element of our existence in society—one can only contribute greatly to science or any chosen field once she becomes aware of her relationship to others and refrains from adopting an idealized system of belief. After all, one of the aims of science is to find the truth of the mechanisms of life and the universe. With this epiphany I believe I have grasped a kind of truth, although it is merely a first step on a path to deeper understanding. Once one learns to uncover one's own fictions, then she can peer through other obscuring mists into the core of the universe's secrets.

12:00 pm, May 15, 2001 :: erstwhile

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